I have one chapter left to read in Kip Hawley and Nathan Means’ book Permanent Emergency. The book describes Hawley’s term as TSA Administrator, from 2005 until 2009.
I don’t want the book to end. It’s really good.
I’ve read Tom Ridge’s and Michael Chertoff’s after-office books. Permanent Emergency is in its own class, at least when it comes to back-in-the-day homeland security memoirs. Ridge’s book engages the reader. Chertoff’s book challenges (ok, it’s a hard read).
Hawley and Means’ work is a page turner. I will not be surprised if Permanent Emergency is made into a movie. A made-for-TV movie. But still, a movie. (By then, maybe the book can lose the melodramatic subtitle, “Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security.”)
Here are some of the questions the book asks and answers:
How did TSA get into the behavioral detection business? Why do passengers really have to take their shoes off during screening? (It’s not because of the shoe bomber.)
What’s life like for a screener? Why do they check wheelchairs and people who’s hips have been replaced? Why do they follow rules instead of use their discretion? What was the only professional decoration Hawley had on his “love me” wall?
What command center did the TV show 24 model? What law enforcement agency receives “the best and most specialized firearms training?” How long does it take to fire a senior executive who’s not doing his job?
How credible was the UK liquid bomb threat? How long did TSA have to implement the liquids ban? How did they get it done? Why is the 3 ounce rule actually 3.4 ounces? (Ask someone who knows the metric system.) And why plastic bags? What happened to the man in Milwakee who wrote “Kip Haweley is an idiot” on his plastic bag?
How did the TSA blog get started? And how did Blogger Bob get his job? Why did TSA use the Blogger platform (available free from Google) instead of spending millions to develop a proprietary blogging platform? Why did the blog change its name from the empirically accurate “Evolution of Security” to the bureaucratically bland “TSA Blog.” (The book doesn’t answer the last two questions, but inquiring minds remain interested.)
Where did Hawley get his ideas from about aviation security as a complex adaptive system? Why was he told not to talk about complexity theory in public? (Seriously.)
Every man is the hero of a biography he had a hand in writing. This book is no exception. At times Permanent Emergency reads like a 21st century version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Like Mr. Smith, Hawley (and the talented team of people he collected and credits) got things done. Not everything he wanted to do. But progress.
Also like Mr. Smith, I’m sure there were people in Washington who wanted Hawley gone before he did leave. I spoke with a few of them over the years. The consensus from those few was “nice guy, but in over his head.”
OK, but who’s not in over their head in this homeland security business? That does not mean you can’t learn how to get things accomplished.
Permanent Emergency would be a valuable addition to almost any homeland security academic program in the country. For one thing, it’s written so well students will actually read it. I’m not kidding when I say it’s a page turner.
For another, it shows how one person (ok, one person with great contacts and experience) can make a difference. It shows the importance of being able to spot talent and clear the path for that talent to disrupt — in creative and productive ways – staid organizations. It shows the role politics, bureaucracy, leadership, science, research, trial and error, communication, good and bad luck, public relations, physical energy, commitment, intelligence, risk management, sacrifice and persistence play in getting things done in homeland security.
It also reminds the reader how much uncertainty and stumbling and making things up characterized homeland security’s first years.
I met Kip Hawley twice. I found him creatively thoughtful, sincere, and caring. He also appears to listen to the people talking to him. Those traits come through in the book.
Before I read Permanent Emergency I was not a fan of how TSA does its mission. For a lot of reasons, I think on balance the costs — including the privacy we surrender to fly — are greater than the benefits we receive from submitting to the government. I recognize there are other views — including Kip Hawley’s.
After reading Hawley and Means’ book, I’m still not a TSA fan. But the authors make me doubt some of the reasons why I hold the postion I do.
Whether you largely agree with TSA’s role in homeland security or not, if you read this book your views about the agency and the people who serve in it will change. Maybe permanently.